This coming Friday, May 1, the South African lockdown will be relaxed slightly as the country moves into a lockdown level 4.
Under this level, several businesses and industries will be allowed to operate, including the automotive industry - one of the backbones to the South African economy. Not only does it contribute heavily to the GDP, but it powers numerous other industries forward.
In the closing stages of April 2020, Wheels24 contributor Lance Branquinho explained the importance of the automotive sector reopening under level 4 status.
Branquinho wrote: "Both private and public transport in South Africa is almost exclusively by vehicle, instead of by rail. Even South Africa's logistics network is powered by diesel bakkies and trucking, to a much more significant proportion, than diesel-electric trains.
"As heavy industrial sectors of the economy open, such as mining and agricultural food processing, trucks and bakkies will provide nearly all the links for moving assets and staff. You can't operate a mine or farm without bakkies or trucks. Reopening automotive dealerships and suppliers, to provide service support, is, therefore, entirely logical."
Isuzu D-Max production line in Port Elizabeth. Image: QuickPic
Following the publication of this article, Wheels24 readers were quick to respond on the matter.
Baga Mocumi was the first to respond. His concerns were for dealerships and how these businesses suffered financially under the lockdown.
He wrote: "I fully support the idea that the automotive industry should open during level 4 and start contributing to the country's economy again. The financial strain is big, and I know of people who can't pay their accounts. Others bought a new vehicle but couldn't collect it under lockdown. Another challenge for the smaller dealerships is that they are unable to sustain themselves under lockdown and continue to pay its workforce."
Bridgette Edwards raised a concern about operating under level 4. She asked: "If, for instance, dealerships open under level 4, who will be buying?
"Many have lost their jobs and income, and are struggling to afford rent and food. Under level 4, we're still not supposed to be out on the roads except for the purchasing of essential goods. So how does one justify it? Would this also not promote greater interaction among people? Both on the front line and in the back office? All it takes is one infected person, and then what? The whole dealership gets closed down again, and the virus could spread further.
"Though I have full understanding of the situation as a whole, I can't help but wonder how we should approach it."
Kia dealership in Sandton, Johannesburg. Image: MotorPress
Despite the concerns - and genuine ones, at that - the automotive sector needs to open its doors this coming Friday. On the one hand, the staff of every sphere of the industry needs to support their families. On the other, the country needs to get up and running again. The economy depends on the automotive sector - not only the manufacturing of parts and vehicles but also local selling and export of products.
Local automakers have already announced their intent on ensuring that dealerships take the necessary precaution to be ready for a return to business should it happen. This means that extra care to health and safety needs were taken - for both staff and customers.
South Africa can ill afford to be on the receiving end of the pandemic if, and when, it suddenly spikes. Hence the phased lockdown measures, together with the prescribed safety measurements, can go some way in curbing further infections.
Dealerships will likely take on a more digital approach when selling cars, but stringent safety measures will accompany the delivery of a purchased vehicle.
This is all-new territory for everyone, but as we continue to 'learn as we go,' a measured approach will ensure that our economy returns to a stable condition, while keeping the pandemic at bay for as long as possible.Ford assembly line. Image: QuickPic